The Channel Islands. I knew they were somewhere off the coast of England. But it seems they're much closer to France, around Normandy, where Allied forces stormed ashore on D-Day in 1944. For most of World War II, they were occupied by the Nazis, who remained there until the war's end. And one of those islands, Guernsey, is the setting for "Gabriel," a suspenseful, romantic and unusual wartime drama opening Feb. 20, 2019 at North Coast Repertory Theatre (NCRT).
Written by Moira Buffini, a prolific British playwright/screenwriter, "Gabriel" has been seen on various stages since its award-winning London production in 1997. This is the West Coast premiere of a play that will leave audiences talking about it long after the curtain falls.
Director Christopher Williams said he discovered "Gabriel," with its title in big, bold letters, on a desk in the NCRT office over two years ago, when he first took on the job of assistant artistic director. "It's a great World War II play," a staff member commented. "You should read it."
Williams had more than a casual interest in World War II. "A quarter of my life has been World War II-related," he said in a pre-show interview. "I spent 10 or 11 years studying it when I was producing a film in England — 'Walking with the Enemy,' with Ben Kingsley ."
He said he found "Gabriel" so intriguing that he brought it to artistic director David Ellenstein, and they did a reading at the theater. People really enjoyed it, so Ellenstein decided to do a full-scale production, and asked Williams to direct.
Williams has a pretty diverse background. As an actor, he's performed at theaters around the country, and in many shows at NCRT — most recently as one of the three possible Holmeses in last season's super-successful "Holmes and Watson." He was founding director of the Oceanside Theatre Company, and he's a fight choreographer, too.
And he's very enthusiastic about "Gabriel" and playwright Moira Buffini. "Her characters have so many layers," he said. "There are a lot of secrets and lies, so just when you think everything ought to be OK, something new is revealed that keeps the mystery going."
Who are the characters in this multi-layered mystery-drama?
There's Jeanne, an elegant widow trying to hold the remains of her household together; her headstrong 10-year-old daughter, Estelle; Lily, the Cockney wife of Jeanne's adored son, who's away at war; Margaret, the housekeeper; Von Pfunz, the poetic, not-to-be-underestimated Nazi officer; and the handsome amnesiac who washes up half-dead on the shore and is nicknamed Gabriel.
Who is he? A downed British airman? A missing SS officer? Or maybe something else — something ... supernatural?
"Gabriel" is sure to raise some interesting questions. And you may have to work out the answers yourself.
• IF YOU GO: "Gabriel" takes the stage Feb. 20-March 17, 2019 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe, Solana Beach. Tickets: $42-$53. (858) 481-1055. northcoastrep.org